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I couldn’t agree more.  After six years of watching the cruel disease destroy my husband’s mind and the life we had together there is nothing funny about Alzheimer’s, but death isn’t funny either.  Yet, we all make jokes about death and think nothing of it. 

 Recalling a scenario of two golfers at the 18th hole:  The one golfer took off his hat in respect as a funeral procession drove by on an outer highway.  Bowing his head and standing silent for a few moments, his partner commented on his thoughtfulness.  “It’s the least I could do,” stated the now-attentive golfer, “we were married nearly 50 years.” 

Obviously, his dedication to golf was more important than paying a last tribute to his deceased wife.  It is so improbable, it makes good humor.  It’s a joke.  Certainly, someone from Comedy Central doing stand-up about dying  at a funeral would be totally inappropriate, but then again at the reception following a burial we gather as a grieving family and friends and relate remembrances of the departed with laughter and with tears streaming down our faces about their life and living as we recall numerous funny moments.  There is a parallel between happiness and sorrow, sweet and bitter,  joy and grief, and it’s through that parallel that we find humor and often a release for pent-up saddness.

It’s true, I’ve never heard cancer jokes, nor have I heard jokes about many other devastating diseases which ravage so many, but there is something about being forgetful and confused that lends itself to humor, especially in the beginning. 

When my father-in-law was given his last driving test, the examiner told him to make a left turn at the next corner.   He did exactly as instructed.  However, it was during morning commute hours and the next street was a main thoroughfare.  Nick made his left turn as the sounds of cursing, horns blaring and brakes squealing filled the air.  The examiner turned white and instructed my father-in-law to stop the car and get out.  Driving back to the DMV, the shaking man removed himself from the driver’s seat and told my husband, “Your father’s license is permanently revoked.  He is never to drive again.” 

All the way home Nick complained that the examiner had tricked him, failing him after he had followed instructions.  “But Dad,”  Ken told his confused father, “You must obey the traffic signals first.  You drove through a red light.”   No accident followed his error and no one was hurt.  Did we laugh?  Yes, and we have laughed for years.  Is it an AD joke.  Yes, and I laugh, even now at some of my husband’s confusion.

Midway through our marriage, we invested in rental property as retirement income, and for years have dealt with tenants, maintenance, rents, rental agreements, and collecting rents.   Every business has its own jargon with which the owners become very familiar and those terms become part of our everyday conversation. 

Early on in Ken’s AD, there was an evening when he looked at me and knew me not.  Suddenly a stranger in his home, he ordered me to leave, firmly saying, “You don’t belong here, get out of my house.”   I replied with equal firmness, “I am not going anywhere, this is where I live.”  Flustered that I would not leave, he looked at me and with all the authority of an irate landlord demanded, “Show me your rental agreement.”  I burst out laughing.  I was his straight man and he was the comic.  Whenever I tell the story, people laugh.  It is a funny Alzheimer’s story.  Is Alzheimer’s funny?  No, but there are times when what the victim does or says is funny, and why shouldn’t it be all right to laugh?

Granted, there must be parameters guiding what is a cruel and in bad taste, and what is okay.  Admittedly, humor walks a very precarious line when making jokes about such sensitive subjects as illness, disorders and even death.   Remember Tim Conway doing his shuffling old man?  Offensive?  No, but it could have been.  But Conway did it in such a sweet sensitive way, that even the elderly, shuffling old people could laugh at the truism.  That same kind of sensitivity is what opens the door so we can laugh away a portion of the pain of some of the terrible challenges which life gives us. 

A few years back I read a letter to the editor of an AARP publication in which the writer stated that she would never again see or listen to Bob Newhart.  Continuing her complaint she said, “Alzheimer’s isn’t funny,” citing  a Newhart  joke about his dog having Alzheimer’s, which she considered poor taste.  However, the audience roared — she was greatly offended — and no doubt overly sensitive because of a close loved one having the disease.  For me, being able to laugh — even about this terrible monster — is part of the armor I wear in my day-to-day battle of living with its life-sucking destruction.

Recently on the sidebar of my Blog there was a reference to “Onion News Network.”  The htt://wwww etc. that I zapped didn’t define where I was going until I got there.   Nor did I notice the clever onion graphic because of the slick professional and serious look of the mast-head.  Intrigued by the blurb which said something about laughing a lot or you cry a lot, which has been my motto since the mid 70s when I began caring for my AD in-laws, I clicked to the web.  Popping up on the screen was a very serious-looking newscaster commenting on the results of a study by a “well-qualified” doctor who stated that over 80% of Alzheimer’s patients were  misdiagnosed. 

So sincere was the broadcaster I believed I had clicked on to the wrong website, but I listened because of the stunning announcement.  He continued, stating that an 88-year-old woman had been held for months against her will, but was released when she convinced authorities her small children were left at home unattended.  Excuse me? I thought.  An 88-year-old having small children at home — finally realizing that I was, indeed, at the right website.  Continuing with the “newscast,” and a few more startling (and funny) interviews the last clip showed attendants guiding and wheeling elderly, confused and often decrypt men and women out of a care facility into the sunshine, supposedly on their way home.  One agile old man, still in his bathrobe was running across the lawn shouting, “I’m free, free at last.”  I watched the clip a few more times to catch the full humor and it did give me my giggle for the day.  It was funny.

Is Alzheimer’s funny.  No, definitely not funny, but we can laugh at some of the situations produced by its presence.   It isn’t being calloused to see humor in life’s journey even when it’s sorrowful, remembering that laughter is the best medicine in becoming strong.   As caregivers, family and friends of the stricken, we must fortify ourselves with all the strength and energy we can muster in order to continue fighting the discouragement, the frustration, the anger, the depression, despair and the futility of battling this monster of a disease which ultimately will triumph.  Until then, and long afterward, I will hang my banner high for all to see, “If you don’t laugh a lot, you will cry a lot.”

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